The Thakhek Loop in Laos is a one-of-a-kind, off-the-beaten-path 220 mile (350 km) adventure in Central Laos.
This unforgettable journey can be covered in a variety of ways – riding a local motorbike around the Thakhek Loop is arguably the most popular (and most satisfying!), and that’s the focus of this guide.
Riding the Thakhek circuit is a bucket list adventure that shouldn’t be missed by independent travelers passing through Laos.
Here’s Our Ultimate Thakhek Loop Guide written by two expats living in Laos who have done the loop twice over a five year period.
This is one of the oldest Thakhek Loop guides on the web, dating back to 2012, when the circuit was more commonly known as the “Laos Loop” and large portions of the route were nothing more than footpaths.
A lot has changed since then (as you’ll soon learn in our guide)!
We’re constantly updating and adding to this guide to bring readers and riders the most up-to-date information we can hope to provide.
We may have moved away from the area just over a year ago, but we still reach out to many of our friends and contacts in the region.
In this detailed guide for riding the Thakhek Loop (quite possibly the most complete on the web!), you’ll find an interactive map with route markers and points-of-interest, a detailed route description of the classic Thakhek Loop circuit, PLUS important information on where to rent your motorbike (and how to inspect it), what to pack for your adventure, best places to stay, when to ride the Loop, and much more!
We’ve also included links to our original trip reports from both our journeys, including lots of photos to whet your appetite for adventure, so be sure to keep an eye out for those as well!
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What is the Thakhek Loop?
In this section, we’ll outline the Classic Thakhek Loop Route as it exists as of July 2021.
The current circuit (as of 2021) follows Route 12 east out of Thakhek (Tha Khaek) to Nakai, before heading north on Route 1E (formerly 8B).
At Laksao, the route heads west on Route 8 via Nahin, before rejoining Route 13 at Vieng Kham for the final stretch south back to Thakhek.
Most riders choose to begin their journey in the city of Thakhek (Tha Khaek) and ride in a counter-clockwise direction around the Phou Hin Poun National Bio Diversity Conservation Area.
There are numerous sights along the way worth a look, such as caves, viewpoints, hikes, restaurants, and other points of interest.
We highly recommend adding an 80 km (50 mi) roundtrip detour to Konglor Cave, an amazing 7.5 km (4.5 mi) subterranean river adventure done via longtail motorboat.
Check out our detailed guide to visiting Konglor Cave for more info.
While motorbiking remains the most popular way travelers complete the Thakhek Loop, others choose to bicycle the Loop or complete the circuit via public transportation (bus, minivan, songthaew).
During our first Thakhek Loop adventure in 2012, public transport could only be arranged for about 75% of the journey with no known regular service covering the rugged area between Thalang and Laksao. We did come across one woman who tried to complete the loop via hired transport but ultimately had to turn back.
Road conditions have dramatically improved, and currently it is possible to do the entire Loop via public transport if you so choose.
Road conditions are so good now that we were able to effortlessly drive from Konglor Village to Thakhek via Laksao in a day (in a pickup, not a 110cc motorbike), making several stops along the way.
Even with the road improvements, riding the Thakhek Loop is still a once in a lifetime experience — and a unique one at that. If this is your first time, don’t rush it!
If you are planning on backpacking through Laos (not touring, not flashpacking, but traveling low and slow) take the amount of time you originally alotted to Laos and DOUBLE or TRIPLE IT.
If you’re craving adventure and authenticity, you probably won’t get your fix in Vietnam or Cambodia unless you invest a lot of time and effort in getting up and off the Trail, and you certainly won’t get your fix backpacking in Thailand.
Laos is the real deal, provided you make time to get outside of Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane and see the real Laos — and riding the Thakhek Loop is one of the best ways to do just that.
READ MORE ▸ 16 Amazing Things to Do in Luang Prabang | An Insider’s Guide
Recommended Thakhek Loop Itineraries
We completed the 350 km Thakhek Loop in four days, including an 80 km roundtrip side trip to amazing Konglor Cave.
At the time when we first rode the Loop, three days seemed to be very much the norm for this adventure.
But three days just seemed too fast to us, even without adding on the Konglor detour — and after riding the Thakhek Loop ourselves, I can’t imagine going back and doing it again in three days.
Now that the road surface along the route is almost completely sealed, I still recommend to riders to do themselves a favor and budget 4-5 days for the adventure — take the side paths, explore the villages, and enjoy the ride!
We got lucky getting to do the Loop a second time, but chances are, most riders won’t. And who knows what the future holds for this unique and special corner of the globe.
If you have the time, five days return trip to Thakhek via Konglor is what we’d recommend to most travelers.
For those who just don’t have the extra time, I’ve also included a three day option as well.
If you’re dead set on doing the Thakhek Loop in two days on a cheap 110cc motorbike, our advice is don’t even bother. Doing the Loop in two days is sort of missing the point, and the pain in your backside will be sure to drive this point home for a good long while.
READ MORE ▸ 36 Reasons Why You Should Visit Laos
Thakhek Loop in 5 Days
Day 1 — Thakhek to Thalang | 110 km | 4-6 hrs.
Get an early start out of Thakhek and head east on Route 12 towards Nakai. This may easily be the single most stunning stretch of the whole journey so don’t rush it!
Expect level tarmac, views of stunning karst peaks, and smooth sailing along Route 12 for the first 50 km.
A short distance out of Thakhek, look for the turnoff on the left to Tham Nong Pa Fa (Buddha Cave) — never hurts to top up your karma before a big motorbike adventure in a developing country. Visiting this cave for a blessing by a Buddhist monk in a sacred cave is one of the highlights of the the Thakhek Loop for a lot of riders. [map]
Back on Route 12, look out for Green Climbers Home on the right-hand side, where you can stop for a meal or a break, or if rock climbing floats your boat, grab a bungalow and plan on staying awhile. [map]
Thafalang (Foreigner’s Landing), one of the newer additions to the route in recent years, is a vast Lao-style recreation complex offering eating huts over the river and various recreational activities including a hike to a stunning viewpoint. [map]
Xieng Liap (also on your right as you ride east) is another popular stop. Pull off on the dirt track and wait to be greeted by a local kid or two who will guide you into this stunning water cave. Venturing into Xieng Liap can be physically demanding and you’ll probably get wet, but many riders agree it’s worth it. [map]
Tham Nang Aen (Ene) is the most developed of the areas caves and well worth a visit, if for the awesome row boat ride through the illuminated cave, alone. Boat trips run based on water levels, and it’s difficult to say from year to year if and when they are running. [map]
At around 40 km from Thakhek, you’ll encounter a junction at Na Coc. Continue straight on Route 12 to follow the Loop. In another 10 km, you’ll arrive at another junction at Nakai. Again, continue straight onto Route 1E (marked as 8B on old maps) to Ban Nakay Neua (Ban Oudomsouk).
If you get a late start out of Thakhek, there is reliable accommodation in Nakai and Nakay Neua (see Thakhek Loop Lodging section below). Pha Katai Viewpoint, just south of town before the bridge, also makes a good stop in Nakai. Climb a set of steep stairs up to the top of a hill for a commanding view of the valley. [map]
At around 70 km, you’ll arrive at the Nam Theun 2 Power Station and a concrete bridge. The Nam Theun 2 Visitor Center is worth a stop if you’re curious about the technical details (and the Laotian take) on the sprawling reservoir you’ll encounter halfway along this day’s leg. [map]
After crossing the Nam Theun bridge, the highway begins a 400-meter ascent through the mountains to a plateau. The village of Nakay Neua/Oudomsouk awaits on the other side. From this point, it’s a straight-forward 20 km to Thalang.
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It’s helpful to note that the route after Nakay Neua all the way to Thalang, Highway 1E (formerly 8B) has shifted to the west from where Google maps still indicates (if you literally follow the route on Google maps you’ll now find yourself underwater). Just follow the obvious paved highway and you’ll get to your destination.
Roll into Thalang, kick off your shoes, and enjoy the sunset from your hammock after your first day riding the Thakhek Loop.
Day 2 — Thalang to Nahin | 107 km | 4-6 hrs.
Less than a decade ago, the stretch of the Thakhek Loop from Thalang to Laksao was infamous for its narrow and remote mountain tracks, most of which was unsealed, resembling little more than foot paths in some places.
As of 2017, the entire leg from Thalang to Nahin is a sealed, proper highway.
While I, myself, still feel a bit of a loss over this new development, I doubt most first-time Thakhek Loop riders will share this sentiment, particularly in the rainy season.
Get an early start out of Thalang and continue north, crossing a bridge out of town towards Laksao.
A short while later, the highway will begin to weave through a scenic mountain pass with only about 100 m elevation gain.
Keep an eye out for the sandstone Buddha rock sculptures carved into the sides of the mountains at the northern end of the pass [map].
Around 40 km from Thalang, you’ll descend down into the valley into Nong Long. From here, it’s 13 km to Laksao.
Laksao is a dusty, bustling transit town for travelers and goods coming to and from Vietnam. While there is a good number of lodging options here, we recommend continuing on to Nahin.
With that said, Laksao is a good place to grab a local lunch before heading on.
From Laksao, head west on Route 8 towards Phontan, then stay west on Route 8 to Thabak.
Two worthy stops along this stretch are Dragon Cave [map] and the Thabak Bomb Boats, which we’ve devoted a full article to.
If you plan on staying in Nahin, grab dinner at the excellent restaurant at Dragon Cave beforehand instead of waiting to get to town, as there aren’t a ton of options in Nahin.
After crossing the bridge at Thabak, continue on to Nahin, about 18 km farther. The road will begin winding up into the mountains again with about 200 meters of overall elevation gain.
While you’re up here, stop for a moment to take in the view at the viewpoint [map].
A short while later, you’ll find yourself in Nahin. Shower off, relax, and get a restful night’s sleep before heading to Konglor Village in the morning.
Day 3 — Nahin to Konglor | 42 km | 2-3 hrs.
Today’s ride is by far the shortest and easiest of the entire journey, leaving plenty of time to explore and enjoy the peaceful village of Konglor (aka Ban O / Ban Gnang) and explore the 7 km subterranean river through Konglor Cave by boat.
Wind your way to the back edges of Nahin and head south along the unmarked highway. Once you reach the village of Ban Nakham, the road highway shoots almost dead south, as straight as an arrow for 10 km.
At Kengcheck, the road suddenly makes a sharp left turn to the southeast. At this point, you’ll find yourself in a stunning valley enveloped by mountains as you ride the next 25 km into Konglor Village.
The tarmac from Nahin to Konglor Village is generally good, passing through a handful of small villages on the edge of the Phou Hin Poun National Bio Diversity Conversation Area.
Plan on crossing a half dozen single-lane wooden bridges which are not covered in asphalt.
While most provide two parallel tracks of concrete blocks (relatively easy on two wheels), one or two of the bridges are constructed of rickety wooden planks that can get slick when wet (like the one above). Proceed accordingly!
When you arrive in Ban O (Konglor), enjoy relaxing or exploring the village, or ride to the end of the road, park the bike, and get about the business of hiring a guide and exploring Konglor Cave.
Thinking of Visiting Konglor Cave?
Check out our Ultimate Guide to Konglor Cave, with everything you need for a thrilling adventure!
Day 4 — Additional Day in Konglor or Konglor to Nahin | 42 km | 2-3 hrs.
There are a few ways you can slice or dice this day. As mentioned before, we did the Thakhek Loop on our first time around in four days, and while you could certainly head out of Konglor Village early on the fourth day and make your way the 188 km back to Thakhek by nightfall, we don’t recommend it.
It makes for one heck of a long day on a cheap 110 cc motorbike in the tropical heat (or rain) and it’s just not worth putting yourself through that if you can avoid it.
Instead, our advice is to relax and enjoy Konglor before heading back to Nahin in the late afternoon. Or, resting up for another day in Konglor before making the full journey from Konglor back to Thakhek.
Day 5 — Nahin to Thakhek | 145 km | 5-7 hrs.
There’s not a lot to say about Day 5. It’s more of a formality/necessity than anything to get your bike back to where you rented it in Thakhek.
It was our least favorite day of riding, as most of it is a long and monotonous ride spent on relatively featureless Route 13.
But, if you get decent weather and light traffic on the highway (doing this leg starting early on a Sunday morning helps to avoid the big construction vehicles that now seem to dominate major Laos highways), it’s easy to sit back, relax, and go with the flow.
As with the rest of the Thakhek Loop, make sure you’re well protected from sun exposure, and stop to stretch your legs and hydrate every 1-2 hours.
Day 5 begins again at Nahin. Head west on Route 8 out of town to Vieng Kham and the junction with Route 13. At Vieng Kham, make a left and head south on Route 13 for the next 100 km, all the way back to Thakhek.
Wave “Sawasdee!” to Thailand as you pass the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge 3 just before arriving in Thakhek.
Thakhek Loop in 3 Days
Essentially the same as above, without the Konglor detour.
- Day 1 — Thakhek to Thalang | 110 km | 4-6 hrs.
- Day 2 — Thalang to Nahin | 107 km | 4-6 hrs.
- Day 3 — Nahin to Thakhek | 145 km | 5-7 hrs.
When to Ride the Loop
The Thakhek Loop can be completed year round. Even before the entire route was sealed, riders completed the loop in the wet summer months.
With that said, if you have a choice, we highly recommend planning to do the Thakhek Loop sometime between November and April during dry season. Though do keep in mind, March and April can get extremely hot, and most lodging options along the route do not offer A/C.
Riding in the Rainy Season
Even with the route being paved, visibility and riding conditions can significantly deteriorate during or after a heavy rain storm.
If riding in the rainy season (May-Oct) expect longer days on the bike and lots of standing water on the road. And much of the majestic karst peaks and scenery will be shrouded in cloud cover.
Riding in the rainy season also makes it more challenging to visit points of interest of the main highway, as the roads to access these are often unsealed and not well maintained.
You’ll also need to pack some extra gear. See our gear section later in this guide for more information.
With all that said, there are two big advantages of riding in the rainy season. Expect amazing neon green rice fields at every turn, and to have lodging along the Loop essentially to yourself.
If you’re the sort who hates to plan ahead and would rather go where and when the wind takes you, you’re much more likely to enjoy your ride in this season.
The Very Best Time of Year to Ride the Loop
If you have ultimate flexibility to ride the Thakhek Loop at any time of year, the very best time to do it is December and January.
Clear skies and the coolest temps of the year almost guarantee an amazing ride throughout the entire route.
Places like Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng can get overwhelmed with tourists during these months, but the Thakhek Loop is less impacted.
However, do keep in mind that you’ll still need to book most of your accommodation ahead of time if you plan to ride in December and January.
Where to Stay on the Thakhek Loop
As mentioned above, if you plan on riding the Thakhek Loop in peak-season (Dec-Jan), you’ll want to book most of your accommodation along the route in advance.
Outside of these months, if you’re flexible and arrive on the earlier side, you should be able to find some accommodation in the places listed below.
However, if you’re set on staying in Thalang (we think you should!), we recommend booking in advance throughout the dry season (Nov-April) as lodging options there remain few.
Thakhek has a good number of lodging options for travelers these days. Our top budget pick in the city center is Bike & Bed. You can’t rent a motorbike here, but you can rent a bicycle. Dorm beds, shared kitchen, and an awesome vibe.
Inthira Thakhek is our top budget to mid-range option with private rooms in the city center. Situated in a historic building with an excellent restaurant, Inthira Thakhek has all the amenities of an upmarket hotel for a fraction of the price. We stayed here ourselves on our last trip to Thakhek and highly recommend it.
Another solid option in the city center is Le Bouton D’or Boutique Hotel. Clean and comfortable with A/C, onsite restaurant, and wifi.
If you’re looking to stay closer to the main highway, Villa Thakhek is a nice option with all your basic amenities. It’s also right next to Thakhek Travel Lodge, if you happen to go that route for renting your motorbike (but read our Where to Rent Your Motorbike section first!).
About 15 km outside of town, climbing junkies (or those looking to try rock climbing out for the first time) should check out Green Climbers Home. Basic bungalows, great food and chill vibe attracts an awesome community of climbers and travelers.
Nakai (Route 12/1E Junction)
Look for a cluster of decent lodging options around the junction of Route 12 & Route 1E, 55 km out of Thakhek (this is marked as “Nakai” on some maps) — try View Theun Guesthouse [map], Phoutthavong Guesthouse [map] , or Linsomphou Guesthouse [map].
Ban Oudomsouk (Ban Nakay Neua)
Oudomsouk (77 km from Thakhek, also marked as Nakay Neua on some maps) also has a handful of reliable lodging options — Sunset Resort [map] is a comfortable option with pool, though a bit pricier than other options in town; Nakai Resort, NTPC Wooden guesthouse [map] and Tolek guesthouse [map] are reliable budget options.
Get an early start out of Thakhek and make sure you get yourself to Thalang for the night if you can. Thalang is a quiet, relaxed, and picturesque traditional Laos village with friendly locals and good accommodation. The perfect place to rest up after your first long day riding the Loop.
Our top pick has been for the past eight years (and still remains) Phosy Thalang Guesthouse [map]. The other top lodging option in town is Sabaidee Guesthouse [map], though they can be hit or miss at times.
Don’t stay in Laksao. Just don’t do it. You’ve ridden the loop this far and undoubtedly encountered some unforgettable experiences. Laksao will seem like a total let down.
Sure, Laksao has its merits. But first and foremost, it’s a dusty and characterless transit town with an abundance of transit accommodation very much like what you might encounter in dusty transit towns across the globe.
If you can safely make it to Nahin, skip Laksao. If you can’t, there are plenty of hotels along Route 1E and Route 8 to stay for cheap. You can’t miss them.
Gateway to Konglor and the Hinboun River valley! Though you won’t find much to keep you here for more than a night, it’s a scenic and accommodating little junction town, nonetheless.
Our top pick in Nahin is Sanhak Guesthouse 1, a clean and reliable bet with A/C in the village center. Sanhak also offers dorm beds for shoestring travelers. Our other top choice is Phamarnview Guesthouse, another clean and comfortable option in town with A/C.
A popular option a few kilometers outside of town (along the road to Konglor) is Sainamhai Resort, which is also worth checking out.
Kong Lor Village (Ban O / Ban Gnang)
If you’re keen on comfort and a relaxing vibe along the river, check out Spring River Resort. The biggest downsides to staying at Spring River are it’s a bit removed from the main village and restaurant prices are a bit steep compared to local places in town. With that said, Spring River occupies the most scenic real estate of perhaps any other guesthouse in the area.
For reliable options close to the village center check out Konglor Eco-Lodge Guesthouse and Thongdam Guesthouse (Khounmee GH). Kong Lor Cave Guesthouse near the cave is also usually a good bet.
READ MORE ▸ Konglor Cave: The Ultimate Guide for Travelers
What to Pack for the Thakhek Loop
Road Protection — In terms of clothing, you can obviously go to great lengths to get outfitted for this adventure, but I found my long-sleeve vented travel shirt and convertible pants fit the bill, though I’d strongly advise against wearing light colors out here due to the red clay surface on some stretches (particularly if you plan on riding to various caves and other points of interest off the main highway). Additionally, your motorbike rental shop should give you a functional helmet. Use it!
Sun Protection — Plan on getting a lot of sun exposure. Long sleeve shirts and long pants offer a bit of road rash protection (in case of a spill) as well as sun protection. Your helmet should provide your head with good protection from the sun as well (though if you plan on hiking, some sort of sun hat is recommended). For everything else, use sun screen, and reapply regularly. The sun is no joke in these here parts.
Rain Gear — If you plan to ride in rainy season (May-October), make sure to pack a rain poncho or lightweight, breathable rain jacket, and some sort of waterproof bag for your stuff (i.e. dry bag or backpack with rain cover).
Cave & River Gear — If you plan on stopping to explore the many caves along the route or cool off in the Nam Hinboun in Konglor Village, you’ll probably want to consider bringing a pair of river sandals. For riding through Konglor Cave, you may also want to bring a rash guard for temperature regulation in and out of the cave.
Snacks — We brought snacks and two large bottles of water which we were able to refill or replace at regular intervals along the way. If you’re keen on having Western snacks, stock up in Thakhek or Vientiane before hitting the Loop.
Money — While there are more ATMs on the Thakhek Loop now than there were just a few years ago, we strongly recommend withdrawing enough for the entire Loop in Thakhek and being smart about keeping it secure during your journey. Outside of Thakhek at present, there are BCEL ATMs in Ban Oudomsouk (Nakai District), Laksao (near the Route 1E/8 junction) and Nahin (on the main highway in town), but there’s no guarantee they’ll be functioning (or have money) when you need them to. Sabai sabai!
Odds & Ends — With the aim of riding as light as possible, we whittled our travel gear down to one daypack and one dry bag for four days — three changes of underwear and socks, basic toiletries, bike lock, sandals, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, bathing suit for Konglor Cave, e-reader, and of course, my trusty camera (which, honestly, accounted for the bulk of the weight). These days, you can just as easily get by with a GoPro and your phone for picture taking.
Last, but not least… — Don’t forget to bring along a sense of adventure! (and a sense of humor)
READ MORE ▸ 15 Butt-Saving Tech Essentials for Digital Nomads & Tropical Freelancers
Where to Rent Your Motorbike
In 2012, Mr. Ku at Thakhek Travel Lodge was THE place to get outfitted with a motorbike for doing the Loop.
Mr. Ku’s bikes weren’t the best in town, and his prices were not the cheapest, but he offered some semblence of roadside assistance if the bike had issues.
He was also very convenient to Thakhek Travel Lodge which was by all accounts Thakhek Loop motorbiking HQ in those days, where you could get the most current intel and advice from other riders.
When we returned to Thakhek in 2017, we were happy to see that not much had changed in this respect, with one little exception: Mr. Ku had been replaced by Mr. Bird.
Here in 2021, however, we’re sad to report that it appears Mr. Bird has moved on and the latest reviews of Thakhek Travel Lodge’s current recommended outfitter, PokemonGo, are abyssmal.
We hope that a quality outfitter will once again take up residence at Thakhek Travel Lodge, so that it will once again be the legendary riders basecamp it once was.
Where to Rent Your Thakhek Loop Motorbike in 2021
Current top options in Thakhek appear to be Mad Monkey Motorbike and Wang Wang.
We can’t definitively recommend one or the other, as we haven’t personally used either.
With that said, based on what we’ve heard from other riders and the latest reviews online, this is our personal take.
Mad Monkey Motorbike
We’ve heard and read that you can get better quality motorbikes at Mad Monkey Motorbike [map], but you end up paying a premium (~US$18/day).
We’ve also heard that the owners aren’t the most customer-oriented and recent reviews of their services do not inspire confidence.
But of course, given that we have not used Mad Monkey ourselves, we cannot personally advise for or against this outfit, and know that many riders have had positive experiences using their services.
Wang Wang [map], next door to Mad Monkey seems to be a good bet for the cost-conscious (~$8/day).
Their motorbikes may or may not be Chinese knock-offs, but in 2019 this matters a heck of a lot less than it did just a few years ago.
For one, the majority of the route is now sealed, whereas in 2012 you had a long day of very, very rough riding between Thalang and Laksao.
Opportunities may still exist for riding on unsealed, dirt/gravel roads, particularly if you plan to venture off the main highway to various points of interest, and the condition of those roads will largely depend on the season and current level of maintenance.
Also, the quality of Chinese bikes has dramatically improved in recent years, and a newer, well-maintained Chinese-made bike will likely get you around the Loop just as good, if not better, than a Honda with a few years on it that hasn’t been cared for.
It’s important to also keep in mind you aren’t looking to buy the bike, just ride it for a few days.
Laos Motorbike Rental Checklist
No Thakhek Loop guide would be complete without tips on what to look for when renting a motorbike in Laos.
Even if you’ve rented motorbikes in countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, keep in mind that life is generally harder on motorbikes here in Laos in both rural and urban areas due to poor infrastructure, red clay dust, year-round outdoor storage, and poor maintenance practices.
Here’s a quick checklist of what to look for in a bike before hitting the road:
▸ Overall condition looks good and sturdy. Everything should feel tight and secure. Check for rust on key joints. A little surface rust is okay, so long as it doesn’t appear to impact the integrity of the frame. Check that the chain is oiled and that there’s enough tension. Check that the bike has mirrors, which are critical for riding on narrow Laos roads where large construction vehicles are commonplace.
▸ Tires should be in good shape and properly inflated with some tread and minimal cracks in the sidewall.
▸ Both brakes should feel good and bring you to a safe and complete stop from 40 km/h in a few seconds. You don’t want the brakes too squishy or too sensitive. You’ll need to actually ride the bike to properly test this one. This will also be a good test for the shocks.
▸ While you’re taking the bike for a spin, check for fluid leaks (particularly oil and fuel), and any pungent smells that don’t disapate after the short ride. Also check for knocking from the engine and other unusual sounds.
▸ Check the electronics — lights (brake light, headlight, signals), horn, ignition. One of the most common issues on rental bikes in Southeast Asia is with the battery. While you’re not going to be able to catch a lot of issues with a cursory inspection, if the bike starts up fast, it’s generally a good sign.
▸ Confirm fuel levels and make sure you get topped up before leaving town. Check the fuel return policy to confirm whether there’s a penalty for returning the bike empty.
▸ Make sure the bike comes with a decent helmet for both rider and passenger, if applicable. Check for cracks in the helmet, etc. If you’re considering riding without some sort of head protection, keep in mind there is no 9-1-1 / 1-1-2 out here, and it may take a very long time for emergency services to reach you, if they do at all.
▸ Check the rental company’s policy on roadside assistance and covering costs of repairs like flat tires, etc. Don’t worry if this isn’t the case as minor repairs generally cost very little and can be performed in almost any village along the way. Also, make sure you have contact numbers in case any issues arise with the bike.
▸ We generally like to do a quick walk-around video of the bike before leaving to avoid any funny business when returning the bike, though in Laos it’s quite rare for swindling along those lines to take place. Obviously, if you do some significant damage to a bike, you’ll have to answer for it.
Consider Travel Medical Insurance (Seriously!)
Laos is among the safest countries for travelers in Asia. With that said, stuff happens.
If you’re motorbiking the Thakhek Loop, it might be a particularly good idea to look into a travel medical insurance plan.
Make sure your policy covers riding a motorbike and that you have the required license/ endorsement for coverage!
How we first discovered the Thakhek Loop and Why we did it
Looking back now, I’m still amazed at how I was able to get my physical therapist wife to climb onto the back of a plasticy little motorcycle and ride 500 km through some of the most challenging and remote roads in Laos.
But she did agree (with very little convincing I might add) to alter our flexible itinerary and give the Thakhek Loop a go.
I’m not sure if Lori would have felt quite so comfortable if we hadn’t ridden a scooter around the hills outside of Chiang Mai a few weeks prior, but that trip went off without a hitch — in the midst of busy Thai traffic and steep, winding mountain roads.
Perhaps, then it was an easy mental jump from scootering for the day in a fairly industrialized country to zipping through the jungle on a motorbike in one of the poorest and under-industrialized places on Earth?
All I knew was that I was itching for the chance to get on the back of a bike in a country like Laos and do something a bit more challenging, adventurous, and rewarding than meandering through yet another wat (Buddhist temple) or doing another self-guided city walking tour.
Ever since leaving the comforts of Thailand, we were yearning for adventure, and redoubled our efforts as such to find it.
We wanted desperately to get off the beaten path and get back to what we loved doing — having our own independent adventures in less trodden backwaters.
We’re suckers for some semblence of authenticity.
Authenticity doesn’t have to include rural homestays, exotic clothing, or colorful markets. Most of the time authenticity bares no resemblance to the pages of National Geographic — it’s real life happening with or without the curious eye of the outsider. Thakhek Loop
It’s the beauty of unchecked dilapidation and local alleyway eateries.
It’s as much a young girl hand washing laundry in a stream in rural Mozambique as it is a young man moving a load of wash from the washer to the dryer while watching a football match on TV in urban Ecuador.
At its very basic (and perhaps, very best) it is life unscripted and unedited, and to partake in that is one of the primary reasons we travel.
So how did we decide on doing the Thakhek Loop?
We came across an incredible sounding cave experience (Konglor Cave) in the course of our travel research and thought it might be something we’d want to incorporate into our trip at some point.
Most visitors seem to get to Konglor via public transport from Thakhek to Nahin, then a songthaew on to Kong-Lo village. And some get there by motorbike.
After coming across a small handful of accounts of motorbiking the Thakhek Loop to Konglor Cave we initially thought it might be fun to rent a scooter in Nahin and ride the 50 mile roundtrip stretch of sealed road to/from the cave.
The more we thought about it, however, it didn’t seem like too far of a jump from attempting the Konglor section on scooter to completing the whole Loop on motorbike.
In practice, though, it was more of a leap over the Grand Canyon.
But man, were we ever glad we made the leap.
It was important to us to use this six months not simply to sightsee but to do things we might not be able to do as easily when we’re old and grey.
In that respect, riding the Thakhek Loop fit the bill perfectly.
Want more? Read BOTH of our full trip reports on riding the Thakhek Loop in 2012 and 2017.
More Laos Resources
Planning an unforgettable trip to Laos? Check out some of our other helpful articles:
- 16 Amazing Things to Do in Luang Prabang | An Expat’s First-Hand Guide
- Buddha Park: Ultimate Guide to Visiting Vientiane’s Spirit City
Have You Motorbiked the Thakhek Loop?
What was your experience like? Any updates on the route not mentioned here? Tell us in the comments section.
13 thoughts on “Thakhek Loop by Motorbike: Detailed Guide to an Epic Adventure in Laos”
Hi there, such a helpful guide, thank you.
Can I ask, as you only took a small bag with you, where did you leave your main luggage/backpacks while you were on the loop trip?
Great article, and gorgeous photos. Thank you!
My friend and I are planning on doing the loop in March however we don’t hold bike licenses in our home countries and as far as I can see, if I don’t have a license back home for the vehicle used in a country I’m visiting, then my insurance is invalid. I’m old enough to think, and care, about this now, so my question is: do you think the loop could be done on a 50cc scooter without too much trouble? (No license required in home country).
I’m not having much luck finding info about this online. I’ve contacted Mad Monkey but they only have 110cc and above scooters and bikes.
Any help much appreciated, thank you!
This is a great question, Robyn. First off, are you able to find some place in Thakhek that rents 50cc scooters? That might actually be your biggest hurdle. If you were able to get your hands on one, in reality there’s nothing along the Loop these days stopping you from doing it on a 50cc (barring unforeseen road work, major storms, etc). However, there are a few practicalities you might want to consider: 1) Expect legs of your journey to take considerably longer on a 50cc than 110cc (be ready for some very long days or adding more days to your journey). There are a limited number of lodging options along the route, which will force some days to be very long. From a safety standpoint, that may mean leaving at first light or arriving after dark (which you’ll generally want to avoid due to road conditions/ animals/ tok-tok tractors). 2) While 70% of the route is flat and level, there are hilly and mountainous sections that a 50cc may struggle on (particularly north and south of Nahin. The road tends to be quite narrow and curvy in these places and large trucks and buses are common along the route – an issue for all 2-wheeled vehicles, but the faster/sooner you can get through these sections usually the better. If I were in your shoes and could get my hands on a 50cc scooter, I’d probably consider doing a portion of the Loop instead (like Thakhek to Green Climber’s Home). If you’re keen on doing the entire Loop, you could also rent a car (I would just contact one of the guesthouses in Thakhek first to make sure the entire route is still in good repair and nothing’s washed out). Hopefully that helps a bit. Have an amazing trip!
As for the motorcycle rentals, would you have any idea on the deposit required if one wants to keep the passport?
Great question, Brendon! Sorry to say, I have no idea.
On my bucket list. Thank you for these details.
Hey there I am really interested in this Loop it looks great and tried to open the interactive map but it wouldn’t open.
Is it possible to download the Thakhek Loop by Motorbike: Detailed Guide to an Epic Adventure in Laos for future reference.
Thanks for the heads up, Dave! Map is fixed! 🙂 If you want to use the web page offline, I’d recommend just saving/exporting as a PDF.
If we do the loop in reverse are we going to get good views while riding? We live in Chiang Mai and are riding our own big bikes, are there fuel,stations or only “Molotov Cocktail “ stands.
What a great idea! Not sure my girlfriend is ok w driving a moto but will bring up with her. Any chance they have automatic higher cc scooters to make this loop. That May interest her a bit more. Appreciate the info.
Both times we made it around the rental companies only had the 100cc or 125cc manual transmission motos (some are semi-automatic). But that was a few years back now. As far as I know there is still a legal limit of 250cc on Laos roads, so you probably won’t find anything bigger than that unless you ride it from Thailand or Vietnam. Either way, I it’s a fun experience!
I love that loop <3
Such incredible pictures.